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A fifth child agency probed

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A fifth Manitoba child welfare agency is under review -- this time for questionable hiring practices.

It emerged this week that Peguis Child and Family Services is facing scrutiny and that revelation has Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen arguing that the province's child welfare system is in crisis.

The review has been underway since October, but came to light this week only after renewed questions about the aboriginal child welfare system. The review is being conducted by the Southern child welfare authority following complaints about hiring practices and operational issues at the Peguis CFS, which serves one of the province's biggest bands.

The Southern Authority decided to broaden the scope of the review to include everything from finances to case management, said Family Services and Housing assistant deputy minister Carolyn Loeppky Friday.

That brings to five the number of financial and operational reviews now underway at the province's 15 aboriginal child welfare agencies. One in three aboriginal agencies is now under scrutiny following the process of devolution, which saw the province hand over control of thousands of child welfare cases to Métis and aboriginal agencies. Some of those reviews were prompted by the deaths of children in care, including two-year-old Gage Guimond.

McFadyen said the review should have been made public when it was launched and is indicative of widespread problems with child welfare.

"Our criticism has always been that, after 2003, the government moved ahead with ugly haste in jamming through devolution, which involved thousands of cases, millions of dollars, hundreds of staff," he said. "The government cannot escape accountability for this. They can't feign shock and indignation without being held accountable for the decisions they made."

Earlier this week, following queries by McFadyen during daily question period, Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh revealed to reporters that a review was underway of the Cree Nation Child and Family Caring Agency that serves northwestern Manitoba. Former staff accused that agency of nepotism and of spending too much on board and management travel and retreats. In the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2007, the board of directors spent $217,000 on travel and other expenses. The agency's director also received a $30,000 van in lieu of a raise.

Mackintosh expressed profound revulsion at some of the allegations levelled against Cree Nation, but McFadyen said the minister has known about the concerns for months and failed to reveal them. Repeated promises to take action ring hollow, especially when news of more reviews continue to trickle out, McFadyen said.

At last count, Peguis CFS had about 119 kids in care and 374 open files.

The executive director of Peguis CFS referred calls to the Southern Authority, the branch that oversees aboriginal child welfare agencies in southern Manitoba. A spokesman there did not return calls, and the director was away for the day.

But Loeppky said the issues raised in review were not so serious as to force any staff or the executive director to take administrative leave, which has happened during a number of other reviews.

The review, called a Section 4 because of the clause under the Child and Family Services Act that empowers the Southern Authority to launch the investigation, should be done this fall.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2008

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